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Why SMBs Should Not Run AdWords Accounts

Matt Umbro | Senior Account Manager | @matt_umbro

The headline may seem like click bait, but rest assured, I fully believe this statement. I’m writing this post because for years, AdWords’ marketing has simplified the management process and claimed that businesses of any size can participate. Though this messaging has tailed off as of late, small businesses are still at a severe disadvantage when trying to run AdWords accounts.

Before everyone gets up in arms about my statement, I want to clarify a few items. First off, I consider an SMB account to be one which spends no more than $500 in ad spend per month in Google. Even with the most precise settings and the best account management, $500 does not go far in the ever-competitive landscape of Google.

Secondly, if a company is spending no more than $500 on ad spend, how much of an extra budget is realistically going toward someone or an agency to manage the account? Even for a freelancer, I would say a conservative amount to charge is $75 an hour, however, I often find that number closer to $125. So let’s say the management charge is $75. For 3 hours of work, the cost comes to $225. In this case, the total AdWords investment between ad spend and management is $725. Just over 31% of this investment is going to management.

On the flip side, if the company determines that the management fee is better allocated toward ad budget, it means someone in house is running the account. Generally, this person is managing the account as only one of his/her responsibilities. Ad spend may be greater, but the account is run by someone that doesn’t specialize in paid search full time. Most of the time, that someone is the business owner, who already has a full plate of tasks.

Finally, a big piece of the puzzle is the website. With so little budget, how much effort is being put into the website to improve conversion rate? Even if the goal is a phone call or foot traffic to a store, the website still needs to effectively convey the message.

Whereas running the AdWords account may have once been considered part of someone’s job, it now requires full-time attention, which leads to an inevitable point – if you aren’t going to do it right, don’t do it at all.

AdWords Is Difficult

AdWords has never been as simple as choosing which keywords to bid on and writing related copy, yet, this is the impression that SMBs are given. Over the years, I’ve reviewed many accounts that contained one campaign with one ad group consisting of a few broad match keywords and one generic ad leading to the homepage. It’s no wonder that the associated poor performance has turned these SMBs off to AdWords.

It starts from the beginning. If proper segmentation and settings aren’t addressed correctly, one can’t expect to utilize the full compliment of AdWords features. Like anything else, AdWords needs a solid foundation to be able to show effective results and long-term growth. The notion that an account can be setup quickly with little research is both false and degrades the process.

Think about this premise from the standpoint of a hardware store where most customers live within 20 miles of the physical location. The owner’s goal may be to encourage more foot traffic to the store. The owner may have an idea for potential keywords, but is he going to know how to:

  • Segment campaigns and ad groups accordingly?
  • Understand user search intent and utilize keywords in the appropriate match type(s)?
  • Implement negative keywords to remove unqualified traffic?
  • Write ads that match user search queries and contain a call to action?
  • Geo-target so ads are only showing in the correct location?
  • Determine correct landing pages?

These questions don’t even take into account how performance will be judged. How will the owner tie AdWords clicks to store visits? This question is hard enough for companies spending millions in AdWords, let alone an SMB.

The bottom line is that the deck is stacked against SMBs. There may be intermittent wins, but over time SMBs will lose money and become frustrated with AdWords. It’s too big of a business to spend little and/or not have proper management. AdWords requires a dedication that SMBs can rarely give.

What Should SMBs Do?

Even though AdWords may not be the right option, there are other platforms that require less time and effort while being more cost effective. Chief among these platforms is Facebook.

Generally, most SMBs already have a Facebook page setup for their business. They may not be posting frequently or actively following the pages’ activity, but the presence is there. And that’s all you need with Facebook. SMBs can boost posts and/or create simple ads that drive awareness and engagement (likes, comments, and shares).

Facebook Ads allow SMBs the granular targeting they need without having to worry about in-depth segmentation. Using our hardware store example, the owner can show ads in a specific area while showing any combination of ads to people who:

  • Like the company page
  • Encompass specific demographics
  • Show applicable interests
  • Meet other criteria

From a cost perspective, the owner can set a budget and allow Facebook to control bidding. Unlike Google, SMBs can see a fair amount of activity on a limited budget.

It may sound counter-intuitive to actually do less work, but for an SMB that is strapped on time and wants to advertise on a limited budget, Facebook is an ideal solution. Less management and optimization is needed for Facebook and the targeting tends to be more granular than Google. The caveat is that the foundation needs to be created accordingly. Just like Google, appropriate research and planning should be conducted before going live. Overall, Facebook Ads require less effort and can better help SMBs achieve their goals.

In fact, it behooves SMBs to test additional paid search channels such as Pinterest and Instagram (which can now be managed through Facebook). Again, these channels are more self-contained and don’t necessarily require users to go to external websites to drive action.

If SMBs do want to go the traditional paid search route, Bing Ads is a good alternative. The effort is on par with AdWords, however, traffic tends to be less expensive and management isn’t as rigorous. Additionally, Microsoft sites now account for just over 21% of search engine share. The traffic won’t be as substantial, but the platform is more cost-effective for SMBs.

Final Thoughts

I understand that telling SMBs not to run AdWords accounts is a bold statement, and perhaps taking this action in the past would have been unrealistic. Costs were lower and management wasn’t as involved. However, due to the complexity of AdWords today, SMBs don’t have the resources to consistently succeed. There are alternatives that provide granular targeting to better meet SMBs’ needs.


Agencies Must Be More Than “An Extra Set Of Hands” To Survive

Jeff Baum | Associate Director of Services | @jeffbaum71

“In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals
because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.” – Charles Darwin

The other day, I ran across this article by Tonya Dua at asking about whether agencies are even relevant anymore. It goes through the challenges agencies face across the nation – big ones being the talent drain, the intelligence clients expect beyond the data, and rethinking the agency model.

All valid concerns and things we think about as well, but like Darwin stated above, to survive you must adapt and stay relevant. As any marketer knows, the only constant in our world is change and if you aren’t changing with the times, you’re going to fall behind really quickly. PPC in particular is a complex, ever-changing ecosystem and even the most seasoned digital marketer finds it hard to keep up with it at times.

In my mind, there are two ‘categories’ per say of agencies – ones that stand the test of time in relevancy and ones that don’t. The agencies that are relevant today are the ones that adapt to the ‘storytelling’ environment that’s currently in vogue today (in my opinion).


• completely understand their client’s business model
• the marketplace they compete in
• what their goals are
• the chief obstacles that stand in the way of success
• are fast to respond to client needs and seize opportunities

Not only do agencies need to understand this environment, they then need to know how to apply the correct solution to their client’s problem.

Simply throwing ‘best practices’ or ‘common practices’ no longer suffice. Building strategies ground in data and in the context of solving their specific problems and driving positive results separates the agencies that will survive from the ones that won’t.

Clients Look for The Story Now (aka, The Intelligence)

Agencies that depend on their client to provide all the direction or solely view themselves as ‘an extra set of hands’ no longer provides sufficient value. Even if clients choose to drive strategy, the agency must always have a point of view ready to share so they can provide solid recommendations that enhances strategies and amplifies results.

Clients look to their agencies for the compelling business story. For instance, there’s been a shift to where clients care less about the raw data and instead, want to know what the data means, what’s been learned, and how those learning’s are going to be applied to inform strategy and tactics. Agencies that can’t or won’t engage in business storytelling are going to quickly find themselves unconnected and behind the times. Smart agencies spend an appropriate amount of time analyzing performance trends in order to make actionable decisions.

Today’s clients want partnerships where they feel their agency is an extension of their internal team. This is one reason why some organizations are creating their own agencies. Being a consultative partner allows agencies to bridge the gap between being a ‘vendor’ and being a ‘trusted partner’.

Agencies SHOULD Be Taking the “Consultative” Partner Approach

At Hanapin, we use consultative selling. Consultative selling is ‘solution based selling’. For instance, a person is buying a car. A pushy salesperson will try to sell the customer the most expensive car, regardless of need. In this instance, the sales person is interested in their own agenda (getting a big commission most likely) instead of finding a solution for the customer. On the flip side, a consultative sale would mean asking the customer their situation (long commute to work, growing family, etc). Based on this information, the salesperson would look to find a car that’s suitable. This might mean selling someone a Sienna minivan instead of a Porsche. However, the consultative approach put the customer into a vehicle that suits his/her’s very specific situation.

The Talent Drain Struggle Is Real

There has always been an ‘agency vs in-house’ argument that’s very much ‘coke vs. pepsi’ for our industry. Just look at the PPC subreddit. It’s a great community that shares a ton of ideas, yet every once and awhile the freelancer vs. the agency vs. the in-house PPC manager argument comes back around and rears its ugly head.

As more PPC talent is cultivated it should get easier for clients to source their own employees and manage it internally. I’m not sure how other agencies train their employees, but at Hanapin, both our onboarding process and training is rigorous. And it’s a continuous cycle. Employees receive over 100 hours per person per year of training. They also write on PPC Hero, present on webinars, speak at conferences and podcasts, write whitepapers, etc. They are trained so well that we’ve got prior employees now working at the likes of Netflix, Adaptly, Google, and Bing. So we get it. Keeping talent is tough.

However, we recognized that there may be a solution that falls somewhere between an agency and an in-house team and adapted (which all agencies should be doing!) Thus, the in-house partnership program was born.

We wanted to find to a way to work with larger brands that already know PPC or have a team/person working on the account that might want some additional outside resources, both in production and strategy. We charge a lower fee per month for a set number of production hours and assist with analysis and strategy to keep the knowledge base growing, while the client still maintains accountability and control of the account and the goals associated with it.

“I personally love the in-house partnership, in that it’s a simple way for a client and agency to work together. The scope of work is more open-ended and the lower price of engagement means there doesn’t need to be a seismic shift in accountability to the agency from day one. Our team likes it because the stress level tends to be lower while still getting to work alongside some incredibly bright PPC managers on some killer accounts.” – Tom Hootman, VP of Revenue

With digital becoming so fragmented (as Tonya’s article astutely points out), you can and should shift your focus between channels and investigate accordingly while leaving the ongoing management and goal accountability in-house. We’ve found that clients like this, as they maintain control while we get to move into a more specialized role, moving between accounts or platforms, developing solutions and rolling them up to the account. All for about the same price they would pay for someone off the street.

If an Agency Wants to Survive, Then Start Adapting

Hanapin is a digital marketing agency that focuses on paid search, paid social, and display. But whether you’re like us or you doing everything from SEO, PPC, to email marketing for a client, the overall theme remains the same – you have to keep changing and keep adapting. What worked 5 years ago probably won’t work now. Challenges will always exist. I could go on and on about this, but I won’t (for now).

If you are struggling on HOW to adapt, there’s a lot of great resources out there. You can also check out our Agency Hero Workshop we’ll be hosting at Hero Conf in L.A. in April 2017. Our President and fearless leader, Jeff Allen, leads the workshop and will be around the entire conference for questions and insightful discussions.

Got questions? Comments? Tweet at us!


How The Client/Agency Relationship Model Has Changed

Kayla Kurtz | Associate Director of Sales | @one800kayla

Back in January, we had started to see a significant uptick of in-house brands looking for retainer-based assistance from our team, as opposed to direct or outright day-to-day management of their campaigns. At the time it seemed curious, but not life altering. Since then, we’re seeing even more of this kind of conversation come our way (less management – more help us strategize and find problems we can fix ourselves, just can’t see).

Part of what the team here at Hanapin/PPC Hero, myself included, truly love about the digital marketing world is how dynamic and innovative it requires us to be. Agility, transformation, and adjustment are constant and it keeps us sharp by necessity. So not only has my original thought from back in January been confirmed, but we’ve seen that theory expand into fruition a bit. Here’s how.

The industry is more educated today than it was a handful of years ago.

I hear you – “well duh, Kayla…” but really think about that for a second. We even see it in our own team structure. We’re able to go out and recruit far more experienced Account Managers than we used to and don’t have to solely rely on our own farm system of training new PPC Heroes from the ground up (we still do, but you catch my drift). Due to the fact that there are more well-rounded and experienced PPC’ers out there…

In-house management options are easier and more effective than they were previously.

Nowadays, brands can go out and find highly knowledgeable and skilled managers to take the reins of their campaigns and accounts and continually optimize them with 100% of their focus on that brand. It’s no secret that agency-based account teams likely manage more than one account or brand, and you can’t discredit the logic behind having eyes concentrated on improving performance for just the one company (though, I’ve argued tunnel-vision can be a problem in the past, as well. I digress.)

So, there are a larger number of potential in-house team members to grab up because more folks have fixated on PPC management over the years, and those who have been in the space for a long time have gained significant knowledge and expertise making them incredibly valuable to businesses who desire that kind of control over their digital efforts. Further…

There are simply more agencies available to those brands who do want to partner with one.

Whether it’s new digital-specific agencies cropping up or existing agencies expanding their capabilities and scope of work – it seems as though the number of prospective vendors to choose from for an individual brand has grown exponentially. If I had to guess, that can be exhilarating or overwhelming, depending on the reason a company is looking at an agency period.

Maybe this reasoning is forcing them to put the agency search on the back burner (one reason overall opportunities for any agency in the market could be down) or they have different ones to choose from than in year’s past. Those agencies that used to get all the action aren’t always guaranteed that spot at the starting line to compete.

Speaking of a smaller volume of inquiries & opportunities…

One of the hardest things to do in our industry is admit that things aren’t all rainbows, unicorns, and puppy dogs. We’ve talked to our agency friends and overall, we see a correlation across the board in prospective clients not necessarily coming in to the funnel with what we’ve traditionally seen – which is looking for ongoing, full takeover PPC management, as often as they may have before.

If you’re reading this from the agency side, we need to accept that there’s a facet of this that we’ve brought on ourselves by preaching patience and allowing a good agency to get their footing and test things rather than switching vendors every 3-6 months. Those two things factored together (more agencies & less urgency to switch at the sign of performance issues) inevitably lead to fewer conversations per agency.

So what’s the silver lining here?

Those in-house teams that have grown their internal PPC management are also trying to execute more robust and wide-reaching digital strategies (be it more engines, different kinds of campaigns, more segmentation in current channels, etc) – and for that, agencies still hold a tremendous value to these teams. Our friends at eMarketer seem to agree, as clients see agencies more often now as resources with which they can collaborate & strategize on ways to expand and tackle issues they’re running into. And not necessarily outsourcing the implementation of the plan on how to eradicate said issues or expansions. So agency expertise is still of very high value, just in a different way.

Think of it like this. Remember the episodes of Mad Men where you viewed hours upon hours of Don Draper and his team brainstorming and actually investing in filming commercials to present to prospective new clients, only to have the client say “we like you guys, and the idea overall, but not the execution – the song is wrong and we’d like another actress to play the part.” Super defeating, right? Except it isn’t. This means their overall approach was right on, but as the brand owner, the client had some tweaks and changes they wanted to see and implement before things went live. They bought the plan, just not the carry out.

This is our new product and another engagement we’re offering to prospective clients.

What we’ve done at Hanapin is roll out what we’re calling an In-House Partnership program. This program allows in-house team to have the flexibility and cross-industry intelligence of an agency without the typically higher monthly fees associated with long-term management engagements. It provides some production and implementation work, but the key benefit lies in unlimited analysis, insight and strategy assistance to help in-house brands stay ahead of the curve (and their competitors) in a complex digital marketing landscape.

We’ll still assign a project manager to lead the communication and keep updates rolling steadily, but the brand will then get access to our entire agency of experts in lead generation, ecommerce, social, data feeds, programmatic, CRO, etc. – all for less than it would cost to hire one full-time expert to supplement the current in-house team.

We think this model allows us to do what we do best – shift with the market – but continue driving the level of expertise and white-glove PPC management service we’ve made our name on in the industry.


How Brands Can Leverage Micro-Moments To Drive Customers From Engagement To Conversion

Jeff Baum | Associate Director of Services | @jeffbaum71

The paid search industry has changed dramatically over the past 12 years. When I first began doing PPC full time back in 2004, the prime success metric was click thru rate and there was no such thing as a ‘conversion path.’

Fast forward to 2016. Acquiring customers is now a complex journey that plays out across multiple devices and channels. Acquiring conversions requires an ongoing conversation that takes place across a series of moments. These moments are defined by Google as ‘micro-moments.’

In this post, we’ll discuss how brands can win these mini-moments in order to build strong relationships that lead to customers entering a buying relationship.

What Is A Micro-Moment?

Micro-moments are mini-engagements with customers that play out over an extended period of time and mostly take place on mobile devices. According to a recent Google study, we check our phone at least 150x’s a day, with an average session time of 1 minute. That means we’re constantly consulting our smartphones as our chief problem-solving tool.

Additionally, people’s needs change throughout the day. For advertisers, the task of gaining and keeping the customer’s attention long enough to develop a relationship with them is more complicated than it’s ever been. Let me illustrate what a micro-moment is in the form of a story.

My wife is the very definition of someone that operates through a series of micro-moments. She owns an apartment building and is constantly pulled in multiple directions throughout the day. For instance, in the morning she could be researching flooring products because an apartment needs a new floor. However, an hour later she gets a call that a tenant is moving out and the focus shifts from flooring to finding a new tenant to fill the vacancy that’s just been created. Later that day, my wife is working on hiring new personnel to assist her with routine building operations such as cleaning and making repairs.

The takeaway from this story is how the customer’s focus changes throughout the day. Because of everything that’s transpired, the morning’s research flooring project is nearly forgotten about because more pressing priorities popped up that needed to be addressed.

“How do you interrupt someone from what they’re currently doing in order to re-engage regarding something they were doing before?”

This is the very essence of a micro-moment. So what specific actions can you take to engage customers when they are in need?

Strategies For Winning The Micro-Moment

Micro-moments can be won by being prepared to provide value to customers whenever they decide to engage. Google recommends the strategies below for winning those moments.

  • Be There: Always be in front of your potential customers. This means putting your messages forward on multiple devices and platforms. Customers utilize multiple platforms such as Google, Facebook, Pinterest, and a whole host of other networks to collect relevant information on potential products and services.
  • Be Useful: Providing useful information is key. Information can range anywhere from a whitepaper that can be downloaded to providing a relevant product search or robust store selector. If your brand is committed to winning the micro-moment, ensure the right information is in front of your customers for the exact moment when they need it. Always show value!
  • Be Quick: Make sure your entire user experience is quick and simple to use. Landing pages and websites need to be mobile optimized and must have fast load times. Customers won’t stand for a cumbersome user experience that slows them down.

Tactics For Winning The Micro-Moment

Below are examples of tactics that can used to engage customers in a focused and deliberate way.

  • Device Targeting: Each device is its own user experience and a separate micro-moment all unto itself. Oftentimes, the device a user is on provides a window into their state of mind and where they are in the buying cycle. Utilizing device specific campaigns provides the ability to target by specific user intent. For instance, if a customer is on a smartphone and they tend to research your brand when on this device, use it as an opportunity to engage and relationship build in order to set up the opportunity to convert at a later time on another device.
  • Remarketing: In my opinion, remarketing is one of the greatest relationship building tools the PPC marketer has. Remarketing provides the ability to continue building customer relationships and allows brands to ‘be there’ for when you are needed by the customer. Carefully consider your organization’s buying cycle and craft remarketing strategies that provide value and perpetuates the relationship. Focusing on these aspects will help win the key micro-moments that lead to conversion vs. asking for a sale before the customer is ready to convert.
  • Micro Location Targeting: At any point in the day we’re mostly likely somewhere other than our homes. Whether it be at work, running errands, or traveling, geo-level micro-targeting helps anticipate upcoming micro-moments our customers might encounter and the needs they’re looking to fulfill. For precise details on how to employ a micro-location targeting strategy, you can refer to this post I wrote a few months back.

If brands want to win in a noisy, crowded marketplace, it’s essential to adapt strategies and tactics to win the micro-moment.

This means figuring out innovative ways to engage customers across multiple devices and channels. Creating compelling messages and content gains permission from customers to interrupt them from their busy lives to engage with our respective brands. Once an effective method of engagement has been developed, then the work of building solid relationships that lead to conversion can begin. Winning the micro-moment not only helps win more business in the short term, but also leads to repeat business for months and years to come.


How Online Educators SHOULD Be Using The Google Display Network

Hanapin Marketing | | @Hanapin

Over the last few years, there has been a debate about which type of advertising is more beneficial for lead generated businesses: Search or display? Both types of advertising have their perks, but why not combine these two forms to help push your leads further down the sales funnel?

Display can be the perfect extension to your paid search strategy, especially for those in the education industry. That’s why we’ve created this beautiful infographic – you’ll get quick and valuable information on how online educators should be using the Google Display Network in one image.

However, if you want a deeper dive into how to do the tasks illustrated below, you can download the full whitepaper (no info required!) RIGHT HERE.